From Japan to the World: Seiichi Kondo at TEDxKyoto 2013

By | November 22, 2019

Translator: Takahiro Shimpo
Reviewer: Angel Hsu This year has been a
significant year for me. I had a very sad event and very wonderful news. The sad event is that
my father passed away. The wonderful-happy event is that Mt. Fuji was inscribed on
the UNESCO’s World Heritage list. My father was brought up in
the city of Numazu in Shizuoka prefecture,
which is the host to Mt. Fuji. And he spent all his school days worshiping and admiring Mt. Fuji. So it is quite natural that he had been dreaming of the day when Mt. Fuji is designated as
a World Heritage. He resigned many years ago and moved to Atami,
another city in Shizuoka prefecture which is known to be
a wonderful resort town and lived there until the age of 94. Early May, when I learned that ICOMOS, which is the advisory
body of UNESCO, made a recommendation that
Fuji-san should be inscribed on the World Heritage list. So I immediately
went to see my father in the hospital in Atami to share this wonderful news
with my father. He, who was already unable to speak opened his eyes, gave me a big smile and took my hand. And that was my last conversation
with my father. He passed away
a few hours later, before dawn. 6 weeks later Mt. Fuji was officially designated
as a World Cultural Heritage. What is significant here is that Mt. Fuji was designated as
a World Cultural Heritage and not World Natural Heritage. It is not its beautiful landscape but its role as a source of
artistic inspiration that was appreciated by UNESCO. Mt. Fuji inspired many Japanese artists ranging from the poets who
appear in Manyosyu the oldest anthology of
Japanese short poem, Waka to Katsushika Hokusai and other woodblock
print artists in Edo period. The essence of traditional
Japanese aesthetic comes from Japanese unique views of nature,
I believe. The Western civilization places
humans above nature because humans have reason whereas in Japan people
tend to think that even humans are
no more than part of nature and seek a lifestyle which
unites with nature and never challenge it head on. These unique views of nature
developed by the Japanese are best represented
in the making of Japanese gardens. Japanese gardens are made
in full harmony with natural landscape Sakuteiki, which is
an instruction book on garden making published in the 11th century tells that if you want to make
the best Japanese garden you have to follow
what nature tells you. This is in a sharp contrast
with the Western gardens. The garden of
the Palais de Versaille outside of Paris in France is geometrically designed,
composed of straight lines complete circles and
total symmetry asserting human superiority
over nature. However there are no either
straight lines or complete circles no perfect symmetry in the real world. They only exist in human brain. The similar difference exists
in the world of ceramic wear. Royal Copenhagen tea cup is very assertive in trying to make
as a perfect round as possible whereas Japanese Raku-Yaki the tea ceremony bowl is intentionally distorted. Japanese feel it is very comfortable because it is natural. The Japanese respect for nature places animals as equal
partners of the humans. In Yuzuru, one of the most famous and the widely-loved Opera in Japan a crane, Tsuru, transforms itself
into a human lady to help the man who saved its life. This may never happen
in the Western civilization because in the Western civilization people are supposed to be
superior to nature. So maybe a demon transforms
a man into a swan but animals do not transform
themselves to express their emotions. Japanese believe that people or humans are only part of nature goes on to accept that even
furniture has emotion. This is Otogi-zoshi scroll
of the medieval ages. This tells a story
about a group of furniture which were thrown out into
this corner of a garden, got angry about it and tried to threaten
humans as a revenge by transforming themselves
into monsters and demons. So this is scientifically impossible therefore sounds totally absurd to most of the people in the West but Japanese, more or less
accept it without much difficulty. Now these Japanese unique views of nature are based on the mixture of
awe for and love of nature developed over the centuries. You may wonder why
the Japanese have developed such ideas, such unique views of nature. The answer is the wonderful scenic views natural beauties with distinct 4 seasons. And the disasters beyond human control such as volcano eruptions or earthquakes. And rich natural resources such as
blossoms, fruits, vegetables, fish that embrace the people immediately after disaster. So I think these unique views of nature developed and held by the Japanese should be better appreciated
by contemporary Japanese and also should be shared
by the rest of the world for the following reasons. One, this approach
will help us develop high level of respect for nature which is significantly important
to deal with environmental issues to protect the environment of the planet including our fight against global warming. Second, this will help us develop sympathy, compassion for others which is vitally again important to enhance mutual understanding amongst the people of
different cultural backgrounds. And third, this will lead us to
the acceptance of diversity which will let us avoid
unnecessary conflicts and will help us build true world peace. So I hope the designation of
Mt. Fuji as a World Cultural Heritage will highlight the importance of
these traditional views of nature held by the Japanese and demonstrate the relevance
in the 21st century civilizatoin. Ladies and gentlemen let me invite you to go back to
the life of a diplomat. They say, when a diplomat says “Yes” he means “Perhaps”. When he says “Perhaps”, he means “No”. And if he says “No” he is no diplomat.
(Laughter) And when I said “Yes” to the invitation from TEDxKyoto, I really meant it because this will provide me
with a wonderful opportunity to get this message across. And this is exactly what my father
wanted me to do after the official inscription of Mt. Fuji
on the World Heritage list. Thank you very much. (Applause)

5 thoughts on “From Japan to the World: Seiichi Kondo at TEDxKyoto 2013

  1. Klaus Wessel Post author

    Sadly, the entire basis of this talk misses a crucial point: UNESCO denied Mt. Fuji a World Natural Heritage award because it is used so consistently as an illegal dumping ground. I'm sure I don't need to point out the irony of using this as a cornerstone of your argument.

    It is in this writer's opinion that a much more interesting discussion would have been one regarding the reasoning and causes behind this contempt of nature, which lies in stark contrast to the older teachings of oneness with nature. I'm sure there are interesting economic, political, and cultural facets that could be explored here.

    We are taught to "leave only footprints, and take only pictures," and as anyone who has seen the aftermath of Hanami season will be able to tell you, there is much to be learned from all sides when it comes to respecting nature.

  2. Seeking Steve Post author

    Which Japanese is Mr. Kondo talking about? He obviously hasn't developed his repetoire because I heard the "Japanese garden vs. Western garden" contrast cited as evidence of a supposedly definitive (and unique!) cultural worldview twenty years ago. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. He apparently believes that he doesn't need new material because regurgitating the same sweeping, dubious generalizations over and over again ad nauseum for years will somehow make them true.

  3. GaleriaPuntoCiego Post author


  4. Janken Post author

    I mean… I am a Japanophile and all but this talk is just plain wrong.

    "The Japanese respectful nature places animals as equal partners of humans"
    The unique Japanese respect for nature ends at the entrance of a Japanese Zoo (Miyajima and Tokyo are both horrible) or a pet shop. And there are plenty of fairy tales with animals in human roles in the west as well. So saying that Japanese consider animals as equals by quoting some old folk tales is just wrong. It's the same as in the west. And saying that Japanese Gardens are very close to nature is as far from the truth as you can be. They need tons of work and attention to even exist for a week. Thats why they are great art. It is just that the style is different and both styles are very unique and beautiful.

    Sorry but this TEDx Talk is not up to standard. There is so much we in the west can learn from Japanese culture, but nothing of the mentioned holds up to inspection.


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